Airbrushed images ‘damage health and well-being’

The effect of media images on the body image of women and girls has sparked much debate over the past year, both in the media and among the public.

It is impossible to escape media images of impossibly beautiful people, whether on magazine covers, on billboards or in newspapers, and there is increasing pressure on women and girls in particular to live up to an idealised image of perfection.

The effects of these ubiquitous images on how people feel about and behave toward their own bodies range from low self-esteem to, at the most extreme, serious eating disorders.

In today’s parliamentary debate I will outline some of the measures I believe are necessary in order to make images used in advertising more honest, and to equip young people to respond to them in a healthy and appropriate way.

The Liberal Democrats’ Real Women campaign has made a range of proposals, which I will present to the government in this debate, along with a summary of the scientific evidence of the damaging effects of idealised media images on health and well-being.

The use of digital retouching is widespread in the modern media, from smoothing people’s skin to altering the whole shapes of their bodies.

I suggest that where digital retouching has been used on images of people, the Advertising Standards Agency should require advertisers to state in the advert the extent to which the image has been altered.

This is by no means a radical suggestion, as the ASA already has codes of conduct which regulate what can and cannot be put in adverts.

I would not support a total ban on altered images, as adults are capable of making up their own minds and formulating their own responses to the media.

I simply argue that people should be given all of the facts before they respond.

Children, on the other hand, can be less critical when it comes to the media they consume, which is why we already have guidelines which apply specifically to adverts aimed at children.

The ASA should bring advertising companies together to form an agreement that images of people should not be digitally altered in adverts aimed at children, which the ASA defines as those under the age of 16.

We must also empower children to develop the resilience they need by giving media literacy lessons in schools as part of the national curriculum, which include a component about body image.

Cultural change is necessary in this country to realise that healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes can be beautiful.

The proposals I recommend would be steps in the right direction, and I hope the government will fully support them.

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